Using Food to Cope with Stress

Using Food to Cope with Stress

SmartCounseling2018-09-13T18:49:25+00:00August 24th, 2018|Stress|
High levels of stress and anxiety can cause nausea and loss of appetite in many people. Sadly, for countless others, it produces the opposite effect: emotional or “stress eating.” Stress eating occurs when people use the endorphins they experience while eating food to counter the stresses of daily life. People can stress eat due to work stress, relationship problems, financial concerns, or even just out of boredom. The food accompanied with stress eating is typically high-calorie and super fattening, which can lead to health problems down the road. Stress eating can be a difficult habit to kick, especially if it gets to the point of causing health issues. If you feel that you may be a stress eater and need to be pointed in the right direction for rehabilitation, the steps listed below could serve as a good jump start towards management.
  1. Take a breather; check your self-talk/motives
    As you’re reaching for that bag of chips, take a second to step back and assess the situation. Ask yourself, Am I really hungry? When is the last time I ate? Is this going to fuel my body or harm it?  Could there be another reason that I have the urge to eat?

    Being mindful of why you feel hungry helps you to identify when the hunger you’re feeling is physical or emotional. Anticipating the consumption of “feel good” foods causes positive emotions to be triggered, which you then feel you have to feed in order receive the reward. If the positive emotion is what you’re craving after a stressful day and not the satisfaction of filling an empty stomach, rethink your reaction. Try watching a comedy, reading a good book, or taking a long, hot shower. All of these activities can produce positive emotions without contributing to your stress eating habit.

  2. Have Substitute Foods Available

    Any credible dietitian will tell you that the best way to fight cravings is to always have a good substitute on hand. The internet is full of helpful “Eat This, Not That” charts that provide healthful alternatives for some common stress-triggered choices. Scour Pinterest for some healthy alternatives for some of your favorite comfort foods (i.e. lightly salted popcorn over potato chips, or Greek yogurt in place of ice cream) and fill your pantry with these items instead. This not only encourages you to make a healthier decision but can also help deter you from eating out of boredom if your favorite go-to junk food isn’t readily available.

  3. Get Physical

    Finding a good physical activity that you enjoy will trigger the same endorphins that eating does, causing that same “feel good” high. Get involved in something that you enjoy doing: hiking, spin class, aquarobics, and martial arts are all good places to start. Physical activity doesn’t have to mean panting away on a treadmill. Finding something that you love to do and don’t necessarily view as “exercising” will increase your odds of participation. Not only is it a healthy alternative for eating, but physical activity fights stress as well by giving your body a performance outlet.

Stress eating boils down to an unhealthy addiction to food, and just like any addiction, therapy can be extremely helpful. Working through whatever is causing you to be stressed may help you pinpoint the underlying problem, curing you of both your anxiety and your overeating. Finding a certified Food Addiction Therapist can be difficult, but any addictions counselor would be advantageous.  Ask your family and friends if they have any that they trust, and feel free to ask questions regarding their methods of treatment. Stress eating is equal parts physical and mental, and finding someone that can assist in that is crucial for transformation. Above all, don’t give up and you will be able to achieve the results you desire.